Donald Trump scares a lot of people. They worry that he is a crazy racist who can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes. They worry that he will needlessly insult foreign leaders. They worry that he isn’t sufficiently knowledgeable to do the job. And so on.
But unlike the frightened masses, I perceive Trump to be safer than the average candidate for president. You might wonder what-the-hell I’m seeing that you are not seeing. That’s worth detailing because it is always fascinating when people look at the same situation and have wildly different interpretations. With that setup, here are my reasons why Donald Trump does not scare me.
I’m Not Afraid of the Dark
If you ask a hundred strangers to finish the following sentence, what types of answers would you get?
I’ll bet the answer you would hear most often is “the dark.” Children are typically afraid of the dark because – as you know – ghosts and other monsters hide in the dark. Humans eventually grow up, but we never completely lose our childhood fears. Those fears are deeply ingrained.
“Dark” is a word that takes our brains immediately and automatically to a place of irrational fear. You might even say the word dark is a form of “pre-suasion,” which is coincidentally the title of an important, new book by the Godzilla of Influence, Robert Cialdini. Read it and learn how a word such as “dark” can rewire your mind to perceive your environment as more frightening than the evidence suggests.
Unlike most normal humans, I’m not especially afraid of the dark. I don’t believe in ghosts and I live in a safe neighborhood. That makes me less susceptible to the word dark as pre-suasion. If you happen to live in a dangerous neighborhood, and/or you believe in ghosts, the word dark is likely to influence you more deeply that it does me.
I also recognized soon after Trump’s GOP convention speech that Clinton’s campaign had evidently coached its surrogates to simultaneously use the word dark to pre-suade voters to see Trump as scary. What I saw was weapons-grade persuasion technique. Those of you who are untrained in the techniques of persuasion probably heard the word dark and it automatically started the fear subroutine in your brains, as Clinton’s team planned. Keep in mind that 42% of Americans believe in ghosts, according to a Harris Poll. Another survey found that 57% of Americans – and 72% of African-Americans in particular – literally believe in Satan. And Satan likes to hide in the dark. With the ghosts.
If you ask Clinton supporters what scares them about Trump, they will say things about his temperament. It will sound quite rational. But rational thought is almost entirely an illusion. What is actually happening is that Trump reminds you of something scary (in the dark) and confirmation bias fills in the “evidence” where there is none.
As a trained hypnotist, and a student of persuasion, I see the world through a persuasion filter. My viewfinder shows me confirmation bias, whereas many people are seeing Trump as an irrational conflation of ghosts, devils, and bogeymen that hide in the dark. Team Clinton created that persuasion trap. I recognized the technique. Some of you did too. Most of the world did not.
I’m From New York
You know how Trump is always saying inappropriate and violent-sounding things? Most people see that type of language as offensive and even dangerous. The exception is people who grew up in New York. We see it as “talking.”
After college, when I moved from upstate New York to California, I had to relearn how to talk. My New York style offended nearly everyone. Let me give you an example of how a Californian talks compared to a New Yorker.
Californian: It looks like it might rain today.
New Yorker: Oh, shit. Fucking rain. I need that like I need a goddamned bullet in my head.
See the difference?
When Trump talks about roughing-up protesters, or shooting someone on 5th Avenue, people from New York don’t raise an eyebrow. But Californians start wondering how to have that guy involuntarily committed to some sort of facility that can fix whatever is wrong with him.
I’m not defending Trump’s speaking style. I consider it a mistake to speak in New York style outside the state. I make that mistake several times a day. And nearly every first-draft of my blog posts is peppered with New York-style profanity and violent imagery. I take most of it out in the final pass.
So don’t be afraid of Trump because of the way he speaks. That’s how people from New York talk. If you don’t believe me, ask someone from New York if they are offended by Trump’s language. Then ask a Midwesterner or a Californian the same question. Only the New Yorker will laugh at the question.
Making a Huge First Offer
Trump has been consistent for decades in his practice of making an aggressive first offer and negotiating down to something reasonable. He talks about it in his book, The Art of the Deal. So when Trump announced he would deport 11 million people, I saw that as an aggressive opening offer, consistent with his history, and nothing worthy of fear. Most of the world saw it as a final offer.
Recently we learned that my interpretation from last year was accurate. Trump is now focusing on the “criminal” aliens who committed additional offenses after entering the country illegally. He plans to “prioritize” that group and get around to the rest at some future date, when circumstances might be different. That’s how a Master Persuader talks.
The problem is that Trump can’t say today that he will be lenient with illegal immigrants tomorrow because that would encourage more people to enter the country. The best play – and the only one likely to work – is to scare people into thinking he will deport everyone, then soften after the bad ones have been expelled and the wall is working. Trump is approaching immigration like a persuader. If you trust him to be kind later, his approach looks both humane and practical. But if you are afraid of the dark, and afraid of New York-style talking, you might see something sinister. I predicted last year that Trump would soften on deporting 11 million people, and he is doing just that, right on schedule. To me, Trump has never been scary on this topic. He was acting like a Master Persuader and using fear to slow incoming immigration as well as to get elected.
The human brain is designed to recognize patterns, but we aren’t terribly good at it. We see patterns where none exist. And once we think we see a pattern, confirmation bias kicks in and supplies our minds with lots of imaginary “evidence.”
For example, if you think Trump is a racist, you were probably offended that he referred to Judge Curiel as “Mexican.” But if you do not think Trump is racist, you might notice that Americans with Italian heritage refer to themselves as Italian. And Americans with Irish backgrounds often call themselves Irish. Even Americans with Mexican heritage call themselves Mexicans. It’s just a shorthand way of talking. Every single one of us talks the way Trump does.
My perception of the Judge Curiel situation is that Trump was making a common-sense legal point about the nature of bias. All humans are influenced by their experiences, and a judge with Mexican heritage – and beloved Mexican family members – has a good chance of being biased against an alleged anti-Mexican defendant. That’s just a statement about how normal humans are wired. It says nothing about Curiel’s talent as a judge.
As a student of persuasion, my mental filters are set to spot confirmation bias the way bird-watchers are trained to spot birds. Most voters have never even heard of confirmation bias. They don’t know it is a thing.
Once you know what confirmation bias is, you can better recognize it in others. My perception is that what people see as Trump’s racism is actually their own confirmation bias. That doesn’t mean I’m right. But keep in mind that I am trained to spot confirmation bias in others, and this is the cleanest case I have ever seen.
The other possibility is that my writing about Trump has put me into cognitive dissonance and I’m the crazy one here. I can’t rule that out. But to the point of today’s blog, it explains why Trump looks safe to me and dangerous to those who don’t know what confirmation bias is.
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